Being disagreeable

As a freshman in college, I was required to take an intro to logic and critical thinking. The professor was notorious for being a bit intimidating and didn’t mess around. He routinely would select one of the 15 or so of us with which to argue a point. He then proceeded to just barely nudge the conversation until he had whichever student it was trapped, and went for the kill.

I won’t soon forget or possibly ever forget the day it became my turn. I kept coldly persistent and parried his every slight twist to make sure we were still having the same argument. He took the challenge, of course. Eventually, he broke into a big grin and said something like, “I guess you’re not going to budge,” and conceded. It felt good. But really, it was a sign that I could learn from a master in action. Persistence is a gift and clarity of though an absolute necessity in that kind of situation. Being unemotional in a disagreement helps because it’s not about feelings, mine or otherwise. Learning that early enough on in order to have constructive disagreement was a gift that still gives, when I use it.

I’m not always cool under pressure. I don’t always remember. But when I stop and think, I at least have a chance.

Keep it simple, Stoopid.

How can you love a rooster you don’t even know?

I’m not quite sure, but I’ve found one, even though he is fictional. I’ve been, in my estimation, having way more of “all the feels” of late, and it’s getting kind of frustrating. Also, my hormones seem to be a ‘lil askew. I’m too old for this, really. I’ll spare you the details.

Regardless, sometimes when I get a few too many feelings it gets really uncomfortable in my skin. I’m jumpy. I’m grumpy. My head hurts. My stomach is off, all the time. I keep apologizing for every bloody thing whether I did it or not, though nobody cares. Or notices.

Which has lead to me spending more time reading and hopefully less time opening my mouth to talk. I started reading this detective/crime fiction series written by Dawn Lee McKenna, called “The Forgotten Coast” series. It’s pretty entertaining, the characters are complex enough and the dialogue and descriptions make me laugh some.

But I really identify with one of the more minor characters. He’s a rooster and his name is Stoopid. By her descriptions, he’s not a robust rooster, disagrees with the family dog, doesn’t really tend his flock, gets underfoot inconveniently and may roost on the ceiling fan if he can finagle his way into the house. He sort of became a house rooster during a hurricane.

Stoopid is a mess. But between his running-at-you bark, squawking when people to show up and his desire to roost on the ceiling fan, I feel him. I wish I could get Matt Inman of The Oatmeal to make a comic of Stoopid.

I’m with you, buddy.


Scent of things to come?

The office elevator smells of sweaty boys. Ok, fine, one of the elevators in the 21 floor office tower in which I work. Which has 8 elevators.

This just reinforces my notion that suits are silly, but further hammers home the point that even though office buildings are designed with the comforts of dudes in suits in mind, the elevator still smells like a high school locker room. Because the dudes in suits occasionally leave the office tower and (gasp!) go outside, where it is a very unseasonably warm 84. I guess they should just stay at their desks.

Suffice it to say, I am glad I wore my sweater today. I’d otherwise have hypothermia.

Art and symbol

Perhaps once thought of as a part of a new move by the Catholic Church, Karl Rahner represented a far more “populist” platform during Vatican II and then promptly died. Well before I was born. But he has influenced my thoughts from afar. His theological concepts, thoughts and general discourse changed how I looked at life, art and everything.

As an undergrad, I did a project that looked at Andy Warhol’s Last Supper Series through the lens of Karl Rahner’s theology of the symbol.

It’s quite a theology. To get basic with it is pretty much a shame, but really, it’s about perspective. It about the difference between a symbol and a sign. A sign points you in a direction, a symbol bears the presence of the symbolized.

So, when Warhol was using Leonardo’s Last Supper as an inspiration he was trying to reconnect the modern audience with an abandoned symbol. Up until Leonardo da Vinci, the Last Supper of biblical myth had typically been pained to look like what a community gathering would resemble in that town, where ever it was created. After Da Vinci’s Last Supper, things got fixed, meaning most people see the Last Supper in terms of how an Italian Renaissance setting would look. Warhol challenged that… and a lot of people got upset, of course, because it’s Warhol. But a different lens, a different perspective. Perhaps Warhol just wanted us to see anew.

The favorite philosopher

So I am not necessarily qualified any longer to discuss Gadamer. It’s been too long and I’m too far removed. I do recall reading Truth and Method and peeling back a few layers of my brain. Probably should address more on this in another book, but suffice it to say it became clear that truth is a belief, not necessarily a reality and our methodology on how we treat both truth and lies and how comfortable we get with grey area impacts how we live. See Brene Brown for a better detailed explanation, or Gadamer himself.

Let me cut to the chase. I am really interested in what motivates people, and how we understand or fail to understand each other. Philosophical hermeneutics – the thoughts/philosophy on the science of understanding is what Truth and Method is about. The book is a fortress. I basically have to read it aloud to myself to absorb anything at this point. My brain just doesn’t process things like that on demand anymore.

Gadamer’s deep dive into the science of understanding and how we, as people, limit or expand our capacity to enter into conversation/dialogue with others blew my hair back. It’s all about how we interpret, how open to perspective we are. And it’s wild given our current context.

I’m not sure recovering intentionality may or may not be possible. I think we should try. At any rate, we do need to acknowledge our biases and the history in which we exist.

Things will be viewed differently in the future. It doesn’t make us right or wrong. It does make subjectivity ever present. The two are not the same and trying to qualify events is often not the best tool of examination.

The surly Scot

It was my beloved partner who discovered Stuart MacBride. A Scottish writer, long on macabre police procedurals and Scottish witticisms, especially expletives and crazy descriptions of his characters. He creates and abundance of personality, and his people are out sized. His bumbling hero, Logan McRae, is constantly finding himself in precarious if not downright life-threatening situations.

Logan’s boss is a lunatic with crazy hair. There are many butties involved. But throughout, despite the gruesome and grizzly things that befall the characters, you root for them. And there are goons and gangsters and all manner of compromising situations but it’s super funny and compelling. And the good guys usually win, sort of.

Even Cowgirls get the Blues

Well, better Friday than never, right. Besides, I had to wait for the mountain to come out so I could get a decent picture from the bus…

Sissy Hankshaw may have changed my life. Of course, Tom Robbins is a Seattle guy. And an ex-lover of mine introduced me to his work. But he’s a unicorn. Sissy, by all accounts, is odd. Big thumbs, free love, nothing is sacred. His words are a weave. They take a journey, they spin the wool, they move your brain around.

Then he does it again. He also collaborates with other artists I love, like Ani DiFranco. He also has great titles – “Skinny Legs and All,” “Still Life with Woodpecker,” “Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas” – the power of words, the ability to describe, precisely, with richness and humor. The use of the right words at the right time. All of it is in the details.

With love from Texas

Jenny Lawson. Who doesn’t love someone with an obsession with taxidermy? And a host of other quirks And a serious case of anxiety and depression (self-described), among other things. If you haven’t read her stuff, you should. Furiously Happy had me laughing out loud on public transit. Keeps the rest of the public at bay when they think you are truly crazy, which by my judgement, I am.

Her other book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is also a riot. She tells her heartbreaking truths in the most entertaining way. She also had the smarts to create a coloring book with her doodles and insights, so you can be inspired but without having to think too hard and easily get distracted by coloring the doodles. It’s therapeutic, for sure.

Her openness about her life, her story, her struggles, is super-real, heartfelt and delivered with just enough aplomb and vivid language that you have to keep going. She also has some odd shopping habits that might get a little alarming if they showed up at your doorstep. I think reading her books might have been the final impetus, along with some super gentle prodding from my coach, to actually write this thing. So, Jenny, if this should somehow ever find you, thank you.

The confessionals

Ok, so to start, yes, I realize this whole effort could be considered along the lines of confessional. As I endeavored this outline and the writing thereafter, the only promise I made to myself is to try and speak my truth. Not that the truth is a constant, but to channel my inner John Leguizamo in Moulin Rouge – “I only speak the truth.”

Back to the confessionals. I’ll stick with 2 decidedly associated with the movement/moment as such, and one other poet influenced by a friend to my favorite of the 2. Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Maxine Kumin. Sylvia, best known for The Bell Jar. And for offing herself in her oven. We read The Bell Jar in high school – 11th grade, I think. Boston-born, poet married to a poet, depressed in a way that was documented to be super deep in a time when it was far harder to find willing help. She was a game changer, though, as a writer whose style compelled people to look and listen. A writer not loved enough until well after she was lost. A love and a friend. A fellow warrior. A woman of great magnitude. A leader before her time, in a sense nobody could understand until years later. Typical. Sad. But the gifts she left for us.

Anne. Oh Anne. “Just once, in Boston, I knew what life was for” Anne. “Suicides have a special language” Anne. “Live or die, just don’t ruin everything” Anne. Boston-born. Friend of Sylvia Plath. Poet. Lioness. Suicide. There’s been a lot of post-death talk, about abuses she committed. It’s complicated, certainly. But what I do know is the impact of her words on my life. Live or Die won the Pulitzer. I convinced my then boss, the Executive Director of the non-profit I worked for, to recite “Her Kind” to a room full of poor and homeless women. It killed. Her words wend and warp their way through my world and my mind. So many things she said. For the uninitiated, she killed herself. She’s buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston. My pal Jay and I once visited, left her some smokes. And some love. No way to undo what’s done, but always a way to show some love.

Not a noted confessional poet, Maxine Kumin was an astute observer and best friend to Anne Sexton. Her words are about details. She’s not telling how she feels. She’s telling what she sees. I empathize with that. I usually end up spilling how I feel, but the impact of that is mostly coming from what I observed.

Anyway, so Maxine wasn’t by definition one of the confessional poets. But she was one of Anne Sexton’s dear friends. And after Anne donned her mother’s fur coat, had a drink and sat in her garage with the car running until the carbon monoxide killed her, Maxine wrote a poem I will never forget. She also is most likely the last person to have seen Anne alive, because they had lunch the day Anne killed herself.

“How it is” is a heart-rending poem. It’s a poem of the survivor – the one who still lives on after the one who couldn’t and doesn’t. “Shall I say how it is in your clothes?” Or – more to the point – “I think of the last day of your life, old friend, how I would unwind it, paste it together in a different collage.”

Her words encapsulate the toughness of being the one who is left behind. Part of why I am determined to keep on keeping on is because I read her words. It’s because nobody should have to feel that bereft because somebody gave up. Although I don’t ever blame anyone who cannot anymore.

Sometimes it’s just too much. Sometimes we cannot with things. I have lost friends. I have lost my sense of being at times. I persist because that is what I do. But that doesn’t make things reasonable or less painful. I do not know how to explain or deal with the ones who leave us behind. I don’t know. It sucks to lose people we love. It sucks to live in pain. In the end, it is what it is. We live. We love. We lose. We latch onto what we can. We shed a tear. For every Anne, there is a Maxine. Some of us can’t cope. Some of us can’t not cope. The rest of us exist. Coping how we may.

Writers, pt. I

The Russians

A long time ago, when I was in 10th grade, I was finishing my books in my English class way ahead of schedule. So my teacher found a solution and sent me across the hall to another classroom with a copy of Anna Karenina. Game changer. I dove into that complex, beautiful world and my understanding of story, of art, of depth, of philosophy, etc. changed. All of it. A different world existed. It challenged my ability to read and track and to comprehend.

After that point, I read War and Peace over the summer. As well as other of Tolstoy’s works. I dabbled in Gogol. I was turned onto Chekov through The Cherry Orchard.

And then I fell into Dostoevsky and it was true love. First was Crime and Punishment, then The Idiot, Notes from the Underground and more. Finally, The Brothers Karamazov.

There is so much I could try to say. But really there isn’t a point. The Brothers Karamazov is beyond seminal. It’s beyond genre. It beckons. It pushes the reader away. The characters are multivalent, at first “one note” in the way you are lead to them, but by interaction and intervention in each others’ lives, shiny and sullied, heroic, stoic, mad, despondent, guilty and naïve. All of them.

It’s a soap opera, a circus, a family. It’s the shame of poverty, the sadness of wealth, the mismatched, inappropriate assumptiveness of all people. The excess of emotion actually right-sizes the grandiosity of the journey. It is at once holy, unbelievable and heart-breaking.

Shit. I just tried to say it. Oh well, you get my point. I got a lot out of it. The last time I read it, I got the newer translation, which got more of Dostoevsky’s humor. Still incredible. Still my favorite book.